Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett is warning older residents and their families to be on the watch for online romance scams after a Wichita area woman was conned out of $482,000.
A romance scam, also known as an online dating scam, is when a person is tricked into believing they are in a romantic relationship with someone they met online. In fact, the “other half” of the relationship is a cybercriminal using a fake identity to gain enough of the victim’s trust to ask — or blackmail — them for money.
In the case that prompted Bennet’s warning, a 68-year-old Trenton, N.C., woman pleaded guilty to felony charges of mistreatment of an elder person and theft. She was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution. Bennett said the woman cooperated with authorities and was actually a victim of the same man who swindled the Wichita area victim.
“She got cleaned out herself,” he said. “Her life is destroyed. How insidious is that?”
Bennett said scammers can find their victims through something as simple as an online obituary naming a widow or widower. He urged family members to stay in touch with older relatives.
“Ask them what’s going on? Who are you talking to?” he said.
Immediate family members and guardians may be able to make an arrangement with a parent or grandparents’ bank to be notified in the case of suspicious account activity, Bennett said, noting that some banks may be more accommodating than others.
“My advice would be to ask your particular bank.”
Bennett said romance scams are on the rise nationally, caused in part by a significant portion of the U.S population reaching retirement age with money in the bank and other assets. According to the Federal Trade Commission:
· In 2019, nearly 20,000 victims lost around 201-million dollars in romance scams.
· Total reported losses to romance scams were higher than any other scam reported to the FTC in 2019.
· Romance scams are riskiest to people in the 55 – 64 age group.
· In 2019, 68 percent of the dollars reported lost on romance scams by older adults were sent by wire transfer.
· The Better Business Bureau reported in its 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report that the Midwest is most susceptible to romance scams.